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Thousands march for voting rights, statehood 58 years after the March on Washington

D. C. statehood, eviction moratoriums and voting rights were  among the concerns for thousands of attendees at the Make Good Trouble rally in Washington  Saturday marking the 58th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led March on Washington. 

As temperatures soared in the 90s, several key speakers including Rev. Dr. William Barber II and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser encouraged attendees to keep fighting against injustices and often compared events that led up to the march to events that sparked the 1963 gathering led by King. 

There were several moments throughout the rally where the crowd shouted “No justice, no peace!” and “Black Lives Matter” while they conveyed their demands from Congress for extensive voting rights protections. Many were calling for Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named after the late Georgia representative, the late congressman who died last year, who is known for his role in championing civil rights for Black people. 

The proposed legislation, also known as H.R. 4, is meant to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by creating procedural rules, which were a part of the original bill, but significantly weakened by Supreme Court decisions Shelby v. Holder in 2013 and Brnovich v. DNC this year. These rules will require states to receive preclearance before changing voting laws for a ten year period if they violated voting rights at least ten times within the last 25 years.    

Democrats in Congress have been calling for these measures after Republican state legislatures proposed and passed laws restricting voters following their loss in the 2020 election. Some of these laws include restricting early voting and a ban on giving voters water as they wait in hour-long lines. 

“The constitutional and moral crisis we face today is the direct result of forces and state legislatures that have organized to push back against the progressive voice and power in this country,” says Barber. “It is not just an attack on Black people; it is an attack on justice and the progressive voice in this nation,” he continued. 

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the bill along party lines with all 212 Republicans opposing. The bill must now be passed by the Senate, but faces steep opposition which has recently grappled over infrastructure and a previous voting rights bill which Republicans in congress described as a federal takeover of elections. 

Many attendees at the rally carried signs that read “Protect Voting Rights” and “Black Lives Matter” crowd signs and guest speakers such as Cliff Albright, a founder of Black Voters Matter, emphasized the need to eliminate the filibuster in the Senate that is accredited for stifling legislation as both parties look to work amongst themselves to pass their agendas. 

Marchers also voiced concerns over the eviction moratorium in which the U.S. Supreme Court recently blocked the Biden Administration extension order. This overturning opens the door for landlords to begin evicting tenants again, which could potentially affect millions of tenants across the country.

In addition to voting rights, attendees also called for D.C. to become a state. D.C. Mayor Bowser (D) urged the Senate to pass legislation to make the nation’s capital a state that would give congressional representation to over half a million residents don’t have currently.

“Speaking for the 700,000 residents of Washington D.C. who don’t have a single vote in that house, we will become the 51st state,” Bowser said.

“As I told the Senate earlier this year, and I promise you today, D.C. residents have been in this fight for nearly 220 years and we will not quit until we achieve full democracy,” she continued. 

The House voted to pass H.R. 51, the bill that would make Washington D.C. a state. The Senate, similar to the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, is what’s blocking the District from gaining statehood and congressional representation. There were also some Senate Democrats opposed to statehood. Opponents of the bill argue the bill’s constitutionality while others believe this is just a way for Democrats to gain more representation in congress as the new state would most likely vote blue.

Members of the Howard University community also took part in the rally, including senior Jazmine Grant who serves as the president of Howard’s National Council of Negro Women chapter and the vice president of one of Howard’s newest clubs, Black Girls Vote. 

“Being a part of those two organizations has shown me how important it is to vote and the importance of this John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Getting out here and being able to volunteer with my organization and learn more while canvassing has been really cool,” said Grant. 

The NCNW has long supported voting rights efforts. In fact, the late Dr. Dorothy Height, who served as the organizations’ national president, was part of the group who organized the original March on Washington in 1963. 

“Part of her work was representing NCNW, representing Black women and making sure the original Voting Rights Act was passed so her starting that and working with us made us want to make sure we are continuing her legacy today,” said Krystal Ramseur, the chief administrative officer for NCNW.

This rally was also an opportunity for younger generations to make their mark in the movement. The Rev. Al Sharpton’s daughter, Ashley Sharpton, and Dr. King’s granddaughter, 13 year old Yolanda Renee King, both energized the crowd during speeches in which they too talked about how they were also part of the voting movement.

“We wanted to come out and just support the cause for voting rights. It’s important that we as young people come out and continue to fight for the cause of our ancestors and so many before us started,“ says Amani Desamours, a Howard graduate student who attended the rally with her friend. 

Lewis’s brother Henry spoke on how he was calling for the same thing his brother called for 58 years ago at the first march. “Fifty-eight years ago, my brother and others spoke at this event for voter rights,” Lewis said. “We now realize more than ever this fight is not for a day, or a week, or a month or even a year. We must be committed to fight for a lifetime,” said Henry Lewis, John Lewis’ brother, who urged the crowd to keep fighting.